Gig review: Keeley Forsyth at Brudenell Social Club

Keeley Forsyth. Picture: Sophie StaffordKeeley Forsyth. Picture: Sophie Stafford
Keeley Forsyth. Picture: Sophie Stafford
Much like her singular music, which first began to emerge on the Leeds-based Leaf Label two years ago, as a live performer Keeley Forsyth seems to thrive on two things: a keen sense of theatricality and decidedly crepuscular staging.

Throughout her hour-long set in the Brudenell Social Club’s intimate Community Room the actor turned singer-songwriter’s face remains concealed by a curtain of bobbed black hair, her movements often hunched and unexpressive, while her band, which comprises electronic arist Ross Downes, pianist and harmonium player Matthew Bourne and cellist Michal Bardon, lurks in the shadows playing portentous drones and digital glitches.

The intention is very much to focus attention on Forsyth’s voice, whose remarkable range sounds even more haunting in this setting than on record.

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The set is drawn from her two albums and standalone EP, and opens with the singer declaiming the lyrics to Limbs while for the most part crouched down on the floor. Bourne’s harmonium accompanies It’s Raining as Forsyth enquires: “Can’t I be a crow or a raven/Or even maybe the space around its wings?”

A slowly sawing cello underpins the enigmatic Butterfly; by the end of Lost, Forsyth is lying prostrate on the stage singing “Is this what madness feels like?” The effect is disquieting.

Bourne and Bardon double up on cellos for the equally dark Bring Me Water, while Forsyth’s voice swoops and soars in the stark I Stand Alone.

In the impressive Wash she intones “I can hear your broken voice/It’s strange”. Photograph might be musically softer yet Forsyth still seems to be searching for something beyond reach as she croons “I cannot find you in my dreams”.

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Bourne’s pretty piano figures illuminate Land Animal before Forsyth closes the evening with the quietly insistent Start Again, here stripped of production effects, giving her vocal greater force. Then it’s back to the shadows as she hunches down on a step at the side of the stage while the band plays out.

The dark tone of Keeley Forsyth’s music may not be for everyone but her artistry is uniquely powerful and compelling.

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